Name: Jennifer Benedict
Type of Project: Service Learning
For my STEP signature project, I volunteered as a Cabin Counselor at The Painted Turtle Camp in Lake Hughes, California. This camp is for children with chronic medical conditions, where they can have a true camp experience while receiving all the medical care that is necessary for their specific condition. I was a counselor to nine incredible girls during the camp’s Irritable Bowel Syndrome and Rheumatic diseases week.
I became involved with the Painted Turtle Camp through the Delta Zeta Sorority. The Camp is one of our national philanthropies, so I learned about the camp and what I could offer as a volunteer. However, I was not aware of how significantly my week at the camp and my campers would impact my life. My week at The Painted Turtle Camp opened my eyes to my dedication to the health professions and helped me to understand my skills in teamwork and compassion.
This week helped me to understand my skills in teamwork. To start my week, I met with my team of co-counselors and we poured over both medical and interest forms of the campers. Camp medical staff, dietitians and behavioral specialists came to the meeting as well to discuss each camper individually. Working with four other co-counselors to keep an organized cabin had been quite the undertaking, but manageable once we delegated tasks. When our campers finally arrived, I realized that each girl had their own interests and personality and it was our jobs as counselors to bring them together. I engaged the girls through our love of books, movies, and my Spanish speaking. A camper from Mexico took it upon herself to speak to me only in Spanish for the entire week so I could practice my speaking skills. From the first day together, my fellow co-counselors and I worked together to create a peaceful and cohesive cabin.
I was also able to better understand my skills in compassion. One of my campers described her experience at The Painted Turtle as “having our disease is like you are drowning and camp is a breath of fresh air”. My main objective was to treat each camper as a whole person. One of the sayings at camp was that there truly are no sick children, but only children who happen to be sick. Rather than only attending to my camper’s medical needs, I strove to serve them as an emotional, medical and social caretaker. I was passionate about this portion of the camp’s mission and dedicated myself to learning more about my campers than just their specific diagnosis. I cheered them on as they completed camp activities and listened closely to their stories and their struggles. By the end of the week, I was proud of the connection I had with my campers and how much they had grown through the experience.
Finally, my week helped to reaffirm my dedication to the health professions. I am a pre-physical therapy student and I have been completing observation hours to prepare for graduate school. Many of the children I had observed were similar to those eligible to attend camp and I was inspired by their resiliency and enthusiasm in their therapy. I learned how to be attentive to even the slightest change in my campers, knowing when a hot or cold pack may be needed and maintaining a strict medicine schedule. I saw the impact my care had on my campers and how much they appreciated my help. I supported my campers as they completed camp activities and as they became more confident. I hope to empower and care for those who may feel that their condition is crushing or drowning them to see how they can be confident and resilient. My week affirmed my genuine love for helping others, especially those in need of medical care.
As I mentioned above, I am a pre-physical therapy student. I am currently applying to graduate school programs for physical therapy. This experience is invaluable to me as an applicant and future healthcare professional. As an applicant, I will be able to discuss my experience as a volunteer at The Painted Turtle Camp. This will include the skills I gained in teamwork, compassion, empathy, and leadership. As a future healthcare professional, this project gave me the opportunity to work with children who are similar to those I may be serving in the future. This project allowed me to gain experiences and skills that will help me in my future profession of physical therapy.